32 Marathons In 32 Days

Two Westmeath men make a run for the border, writes Jonathan McCormick

Many people make it an ambition to run one marathon in their lifetime. Some people may even run more than one. Not many are likely to emulate Gerry Duffy and Ken Whitelaw, however, who have set themselves a challenge: 32 marathons in 32 days.

The two men hail from Mullingar, County Westmeath and, strangely enough, are both running enthusiasts. Duffy started running to lose weight, but he challenged himself and began competing in triathlons. In 2008 he completed his first two Ironman triathlons, and has since gone on to complete a double Ironman triathlon which included a 7.6km swim, 360km cycle and an 84km run – in 29 hours.

Whitelaw's obsession with running started back in his school days, competing for his school and local club. In 2006 Whitelaw completed his first marathon in Edinburgh, finishing 31st out of over 4000 runners. Whitelaw promptly raised the bar further and began to participate in sprint and middle distance triathlons. In July 2009 he completed his first Ironman triathlon in 10 hours and 46 minutes.

The two men are already over half way through their current challenge – spending just a day in each Irish county – and could be heading your way soon. The Northern Ireland leg of their challenge begins on July 22 at 10am. As they approach the final leg, has it gotten any easier?

'The books, and people who have done similar things, told us that after a certain number of days the body actually starts becoming stronger and I think it was around 14 or 15 days when we both really felt that we were waking up with more energy. Our legs felt stronger and we’re finishing strongly,' says Whitelaw.

After Derry they will be running in Tyrone, Antrim, Down, Armagh. The sixth Northern lrish marathon, 26 of 32, will finish in Fermanagh on July 27.

Duffy and Whitelaw are not running for personal gain or glory, but to raise both funds and awareness for three Irish charities. The two main charities are Irish Autism Action and Autism NI. They will also make a donation to the Irish Cancer Society.

The two men will not be running alone, as many keen runners have signed up to join them. Celebrities such as Brian Kennedy, Ken Doherty and Keith Duffy will all be taking part, as will the Connacht rugby team. In Northern Ireland our very own Dame Mary Peters will accompany them when they reach Antrim.

'The idea came up about 2 years ago,' recalls Whitelaw. 'I bought a book written by a guy in the United States who ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days and I really enjoyed the read, so I passed the book over to a close friend of mine, Gerry. He sat on the idea for a couple of months, did a bit of research into it and put the bones of the plan together. Gerry then came back to me and said he’d like to be a part of it.'

The duo are obviously passionate about what they are doing, 'The more I thought about it, the bigger it got in my head, and of what we were capable of doing, in terms of organising an event to raise funds for charity,' wrote Duffy on the campaign website.

The deadline for applications to join the pair on their Northern Ireland marathons has been and gone, but support would still be welcome. Either show up on the day, or make a donation via the official website. To donate, find out route information or to simply see how Duffy and Whitelaw are getting on, visit their website at www.32marathons.com.